by Timo Worst

Who was Bruno Lüdke?

Bruno Lüdke was born on 3 April 1908 in Köpenick, near Berlin. He was the fourth of the six children of Otto and Emma Lüdke. From 1914 to 1919 Bruno visited the local school in Köpenick and it was soon noticed that he had difficulties with keeping pass with the other children. He did not manage to reach the sixth grade and was send to a school for children with learning difficulties. After he left this "Hilfsschule" in 1922 he worked in the laundry of his parents till 1939. When his father, who suffered from throat cancer, died in 1937, Bruno became responsible for driving the horse and cart and to deliver the laundry to the customers. For this job his mother payed him 50 pfennig per day. On Sundays he received 1 Reichsmark extra. On a regular base Bruno stole parts of the money he received from customers, which led to hefty discussions with his very strict mother. Lüdke was a notorious smoker and most of the money he earned was spend on tabacco for his pipe and an incidental glass of beer. He was known as "Dumme Bruno". He was known as good-natured and far from dangerous. He had no friends and no enemies. He did not care much for girls, let alone marriage.

Because he wasn't very gentle to his horse, using the whip far to often, people made a complaint about this with the Köpenick police in early 1938. As a result he was checked in the Staatskrankenhaus der Polizei, to see if he was mentally and physically fit to be a horseman. Some examples of Lüdke's test-results:

Q: We are surrounded by fog. All we can see is a distant village
A: That could be true
Q: A man fell out of a window and broke his leg. To get help he ran to the hospital
A: I don't know
Q: Can you tell me the alphabet?
Answers correct until F.
Q: How many days in a year?
A: I don't know
Q: How many hours in a day?
A: 24
Q: How many minutes in an hour?
A: I don't know
Q: Who was Hindenburg?
A: That was before our emperor
Q: Who is our reichscancellor?
A: Adolf Hitler, our Führer

The outcome: Lüdke is physically healty, but feeble-minded since birth. He is orientated to time, place and person. But he cannot calculate or write and unable to perform simple mental challenges. He is however fit to work as a cart driver. However, the Third Chamber of the "Erbgesundheitsgericht" in Berlin ordered in January 1939 that Lüdke should be sterilized, following the laws concerning "prevention of posterity with a mental disease". This was done in a hospital in Berlin, on 22 May 1940.

Lüdke and the local police were no strangers. Only small thefts. His criminal record shows no violence or sexual crimes. Just things like stealing and selling wood on a regular base. There was no doubt that this wouldn't last long: first of all Köpenick is only a small town and, second, the name " Lüdke Laundry" was printed on the cart he used in bold letters. Lüdke stole a total amount of 13 x 28 cubic meters of wood, worth a total of 187,5 Reichsmark. He earned 13 Reichsmark with it. It cost him 3 months in jail. The police in Köpenick noted: we don't think Bruno Lüdke is a criminal. His crime was caused by his "Dummheit", a result of his feeble mind.

Another case like that is the stolen duck. In the evening of 16 February 1940 Lüdke entered Café Fuchs at the Bahnhofstrasse 20 in Köpenick. Under his arm a bag with a dead duck. He tried to sell the animal to a visitor for 15 Reichsmark. Another visitor payed attention as he was an officer of the Sicherheitspolizei. He confiscated the duck and arrested Bruno Lüdke. At the Köpenick police station they soon found out that Bruno stole the duck from a farmer named Skole. Skole reported the theft and stated that the duck had cost him 10 Reichsmark. Lüdke stayed in detention on remand for five weeks, but was never tried. According to clause 51 of the penal code, a feeble-minded person could not be tried. One month after he was released from jail Bruno was caught with a stolen cock, which he tried to sell in another local pub.

On Friday 29 January 1943 Frieda Rössner, a locally well-known 59-year-old widow, was murdered in the woods near her house in Köpenick. She was found two days later, strangled with her shawl. The murderer abused her and stole her purse, containing 1 Reichsmark.

Immediately after they found the body, the Köpenick police alarmed the the homicide departement of the Berlin police. A group of three detectives was formed, led by Kriminalkommisar Heinz Franz. The other members of the team were KS Jachode and KS Mahnke. That same Sunday they hurried to the scene of the crime.

After checking various "suspects" KK Franz arrested Bruno Lüdke on 18 March 1943. From his report: "On 18 March 1943 we learned that a worker named Bruno Lüdke was a feeble-minded man who was known for troubling local women. As we figured that this man, who lives in the area of the Elisabethstrasse, could know more about the murder, I questioned him at work. Following this informal interview I got the impression that he should know more."

Bruno Lüdke's first confessions

Bruno Lüdke was arrested for the sole reason that KK Franz had the "impression" that he should know more about the case Frieda Rössner, but there was absolutely no evidence against Lüdke and nobody pointed out Bruno Lüdke to the police. It is not clear what Franz asked Lüdke when he questioned him for the first time, but given Bruno Lüdke's mental level he probably acted in a way that looked strange to Franz and Franz interpreted this behaviour in a way that suited his investigations.

According to the confessions Lüdke made directly after he was arrested, he had raped or tried to rape "fifty women" over a period of several years. It is strange however that this is never mentioned again in the Lüdke-case. Also, for the years that Lüdke was supposed to have done this, not a single complaint was made against Lüdke by anyone. It seems this first version by Lüdke silently became a minor detail when Lüdke "confessed" the murder of Frieda Rössner and, shortly after that, the murders of Käthe Mundt, Bertha Schulz and the Umann's. KK Franz gives the impression that he learned from the Mundt and Schulz cases through Lüdke, but from the original police files we learn that Franz picked out these cases prior to Lüdke's "confessions". The files proof that KK Franz searched for murder cases in the Köpenick-area in the archives of the Berlin Homicide Department immediately after Lüdke told him about the fifty women and about Rössner. After that he talked Lüdke in the right direction and Lüdke immediately "confessed the Mundt and Schulz cases. Strange moves by Lüdke fit perfectly into the methods used by Franz. For example: when Lüdke confessed murdering Herr and Frau Umann, he did not mention the murder of Frau Gutermann. This is strange because this murder took place just two days before the Umann's were killed. Months later, when Franz asked him about Frau Gutermann, Lüdke suddenly "remembered" killing her. But he could not give any correct details about the murder. Only when KK Franz took him to the murder scene in Berlin Lüdke managed to do a little better, but this trip also showed that Lüdke hardly knew the area.

In the whole affair there was only one location that was very well known to Lüdke and that was Frieda Rössner's place. No surprise as he picked up and delivered her laundry every week. But even in this case at first he pointed out the wrong spot as the place where he met with Frau Rössner. Furthermore, he should have been able to point out this exact location even before he visited the location with KK Franz. This was not the case. He could not give any correct information about the locations of the murders in any of the cases. Not in the Rössner-case, not in the Mundt-case, not in the Schulze-case and not in the Umann-case. Same with the objects stolen from the Umann's and Rössner. During the first interviews Lüdke could not give any useful information about the stolen items. Not what he took and not what he did with it. His incoherent stories about the locations and the stolen items, combined with a prober conduct of Lüdke's alibis should have opened the eyes of KK Franz and his men. But instead of that, Lüdke's quick and easy "confessions" created euphoria with Franz. Meanwhile we can only guess what Lüdke's reasons for confessing these first murders have been. But its seems to be the result of Lüdke's labile (unstable) mental capacities, combined with physical violence, intimidation, suggestive questioning and manipulation of his "confessions".

Then how did KK Franz manage to get further confessions from Lüdke?

From the original files of all 51 "confessed" murders becomes clear that the "confessions" made by Bruno Lüdke are the result of KK Franz methods of questioning. In other words: Lüdke did not tell Franz about the murders, Franz told Lüdke about them. In this way Bruno Lüdke "confessed" in exactly the order Franz wanted him to confess: first 20 cases in Berlin, but then Hosang-case in Genthin open the way for KK Franz to tackle the unsolved murders in the rest of Germany.

Reconstruction of the (formal) interrogations gives a clear view on the methods used by KK Franz:

The questioning about a new murder case comes out of the blue. The usual question for Bruno Lüdke in such a case was usually if he had ever been in a certain town or village. Most of the times Lüdke's first reaction to this question is "no". Through several interviews, most of the time giving enough evidence that Lüdke doesn't know what it's all about, he is talked into a "confession" that fits the case a little. As soon as possible, in several cases without an introducing interview, the location of the murder is visited. Here the case is "reconstructed" and the "confession" completed. Between the original denial and the confession Franz only needs a minimum number of interviews. If some evidence is still missing or unclear, Franz makes everything fit in his final report (Morgenmeldung). Often the information Franz gives in these reports is simply not true or even plain lies.

Franz and Lüdke: The interrogator and the interrogated

KK Franz is the only person who interviewed Bruno Lüdke during the investigations. Thus it is no surprise that a certain "bond" grew between Franz and Lüdke, resulting in a great trust of Bruno Lüdke towards KK Franz. Bruno Lüdke became convinced that Franz was the only man he could rely on. It is clear that Franz was fully aware of this. On the other hand KK Franz did not have and evidence other then Bruno Lüdke's confessions and he had to take full advantage to get as much info from Lüdke as possible. He soon realized that Bruno Lüdke was feeble-minded. By creating the right ambiance he could get anything out of him. An aggressive tactic was useless but, on the other hand, a soft approach worked out "perfect". Lüdke from his side, felt fairly secure due to his "clause 51". Due to this clause (he was feeble-minded and thus not responsible for his misdeeds) he felt he had no reasons to fear the police. "If he spoke the truth" he would get his job back and be home by Christmas. Another thing happened to the rather primitive Lüdke. It appears that he was quite content with all the interest for his person. A man who, until the 18 March 1943 only had to deal with the police for minor theft cases, all over sudden found himself the center of enormous interest from the police. Not only in Berlin, but also in the whole of Germany. They traveled the country with him, interviewed him, looked at him photographed him. He had "his Kommissar", who watched over him and took care of his daily meals and cigarettes. The whole atmosphere caused satisfaction with Lüdke and to continue this wonderful situation, all he had to do is talk a lot and "confess". When reading the reports one gets the feeling that Bruno Lüdke did not want to disappoint "Herr Kommissar Franz" and did his best to "remember" the details of what he did.

The questions

Bruno Lüdke may have been feeble-minded, but he wasn't plain stupid. After some time he was very well aware of the questions he had to ask KK Franz in order to get help when he was "confessing". This becomes clear from the formal interrogations:

When KK Franz is referring to a point they discussed in an earlier informal interview, he always used a sort of "pay attention" signal by starting with "I want to think deeply".

When Lüdke did not have a straight answer to a question, he always tried to figure out what the desired answer would be, by asking semi-rhetorical questions. For example: "the name of the town is at the tip of my tongue", "I must have taken something else, but I can't recall what it was" or "It can't have been in the summer, it must have been winter". KK Franz jumped at it by asking a new (suggestive) question or by ending the interview. In most cases Lüdke did know the right answer during the next interview.

The reconstructions

A man who did not manage to steal a cock from a chicken-house without being seen, would be the same man who managed to murder 51 women over a period of 20 years, without being seen? He traveled through Germany by train, by bike, hiking and by foot, murdering women in every corner of the country, only to immediately return to Köpenick because nobody there missed him even for one day (not his mother, not his boss at work). The truth is, that Lüdke had no geographical knowledge of Germany at all and didn't even know how to buy a train ticket. An example:

KK Franz: How did you buy that ticket?
Lüdke: Simple, I just said I want a ticket to there and there…
KK Franz: But where?
Lüdke: I will think about that during the night.
The next morning:
KK Franz: How did you buy a ticket to that place?
Lüdke: I went to the ticket-window and asked for a ticket to Silezia.
KK Franz: What is Silezia?
Lüdke: It's a city.
KK Franz: But Bruno, Silezia is a province. That’s more than a city. It's much bigger, with many towns.
Lüdke: I call that a city…

This didn't keep Franz from reporting that Lüdke's knowledge of most places outside Berlin is "amazing"

In the whole Lüdke-file there's no mention of any truck-driver who took the hiking Lüdke with him. It is ridiculous to even consider the possibility that Lüdke managed to travel in wartime Germany, 1939/1943, in the way he told KK Franz. Police and others were constantly checking every traveler, looking for escaped forced laborers and POW's. Yet they did not find a single policeman who checked Lüdke during one of his trips.

The signature of the killer

There is no "signature" for the killer. Meaning that there are no clear similarities in the murder cases that proof that it's the work of one man. All cases show different facts of the case, different ways of killing and different motives. Dr. Wehner told Blauw (a Dutch former Chief of Police who researched the Lüdke case after his retirement) that even the supervising Reichskriminalpolizeiamt never managed to connect the murders. At none of the murder scenes the police managed to find useful fingerprints.

The liquidation of Bruno Lüdke

Bruno Lüdke is liquidated in a police prison in Vienna. This becomes clear from a Telex message from KK Franz dated 1 March 1944. The reason for this: due to the "clause 51" situation he would escape being tried. On the other hand the phenomenon of a serial killer in the National-Socialist police state was unthinkable and had to be kept "under the hat". Also, it was very possible that Bruno Lüdke, once on trial, would have understood that Franz could not protect him and revoke his "confessions". Besides that, a lawyer, but also the D.A., after serious study of the files, would come to the conclusion that the whole evidence was questionable and based on false testimonies. Such a defeat was unthinkable for the RKPA (Nebe) and the RSHA (Kaltenbrunner), especially after all the commotion the Lüdke-case caused even with Himmler.


Leaves us with the question how the Lüdke-case became what it is today.
What started as normal investigations in one normal murder case, became the most unbelievable murder case in German criminal history. The truth is that the serial killer Bruno Lüdke never existed. All "confessions" KK Franz got out of him were false.
Then why did it happen?
It’s not that difficult as all the necessary ingredients were there: The feeble-minded Lüdke, the ambitious Kriminalkommisar Franz who was driven by a need for fame and honor, an authority like the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt, a system that had no real justice, a system that had no real press, a group of failing superiors to Franz and a group of failing authorities who did not manage to fathom the psyche of Lüdke.
After the war the police did nothing to seriously investigate the serious doubts Kriminalrat Faulhaber had regarding this case, and the movie "Nachts, wenn der Teufel kam" completed the portrait of "serial killer Bruno Lüdke" and gave it almost mythical proportions.
In the end it leaves Germany with 51 unsolved murder cases.

Sources used

J.A. Blaauw - Bruno Lüdke: Seriemoordenaar (Uitgeverij De Fontein, Baarn, 1994 - ISBN 9026 10732-3)